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10 Natural Wonders to See Before They Disappear

Going once, going twice…some of the world's most enchanting places might not make it through this century. Here are 10 places you may not have realized are threatened—and how to experience them responsibly.

Get There: Tour the arctic with Trans Arctic Circle Treks, or cruise the Antarctic with Adventure Life. Arctic Trek offers a 4-day Arctic Circle tour including Prudhoe Bay, then over the Atigun Pass into open arctic tundra ($1,638, excluding airfare). Adventure Life has a 10-day cruise through the Drake Passage and along the Antarctic Peninsula on a former oceanographic research vessel. The trip includes viewing many species of penguins, whales and icebergs by Zodiac, and a visit to a scientific station (from $5,290 per person for shared cabins, excluding airfare).

 

RAJASTHAN, RANTHAMBORE

One of the best places in the world to see tigers.

The Threat: The world's population of wild tigers has fallen to as few as 3,200, more than half of which live in India. If extreme efforts are not undertaken, the big cat may be extinct within our lifetime—possibly in as soon as a dozen years. (Compare this number to the 100,000 tigers that lived in India in 1900 and you can see just how drastically things have changed in the past two centuries.) Their habitats have been reduced 93 percent, and though there are reserves across Asia, most are small and have no corridors between them for the normally far-roaming felines. It's estimated that a tiger a day is killed for use in Chinese traditional medicine.

Get There: Visit Ranthambore with Indian tour operator Travel Wisely, which also organizes visits to see tigers in Bandhavgarh National Park and Kanha Tiger Reserve. You can take a full 14-day tour including the parks, Agra (and the Taj Mahal), and New Delhi, or select portions (from $85/day per person).

 

THE TAHUAMANÚ RAINFOREST

Parrots and macaws feed off of the world's largest salt lick. They share this pristine wonderland with endangered creatures like giant armadillos, ocelots, jaguars, and giant otters.

The Threat: This magnificent rain forest in Peru's Madre de Dios region holds some of the last old-growth stands of mahogany in South America. But illegal logging is depleting the rainforest—and the U.S. is responsible for buying 80 percent of the mahogany. A single tree can create as much as $1 million worth of furniture. Loggers build roads, allowing farmers and hunters to enter, further crowding the indigenous people and destroying the delicate ecosystem. In nearby areas, gold mining has released mercury into the air and water.

Get There: Visit Tahuamanú with Treks and Hiking Peru, a small Peruvian eco-hiking company headquartered in Cusco that leads five- to six-day visits including the macaw clay lick and journeys upriver to view spider monkeys, deer and birds (from $500 per person, excluding airfare, minimum of four people; all trips are 20 percent off in July 2011).

 

THE YANGTZE RIVER BASIN

Exotic creatures like giant pandas, dwarf blue sheep, Yangtze finless porpoises, and Siberian cranes call this region home—along with some 400 million people.

The Threat: It's too early to know the exact impact of the creation of China's massive, $24 billion Three Gorges Dam, but many, including the Chinese government, have acknowledged that the Yangtze Basin region is in danger of losing its most distinctive marine and animal life. Deforestation has occurred from clearing land for displaced farmers, and the reservoir has flooded villages, farms, factories, and mines, adding to the Yangtze River's existing pollution from shipping, industry, agriculture and raw sewage. Landslides have also happened, and seismologists wonder if the water pressure above two fault lines might result in a disastrous earthquake.

Get There: The Chinese government maintains 50 reserves in an effort to save the giant pandas from extinction, aided by World Wildlife Fund. Go in search of them in the wild on Terra Incognita Ecotours' 12-day journey tracking wild panda in Foping National Nature Preserve, along with a Xi'An city tour, and a visit to the terra cotta warriors (from $5,999 per person, excluding airfare).

 

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SEE THE PLACES

Join us on a photo tour of some of the world's most endangered natural gems.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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